Afghanistan bombing rubble

barefoot on broken glass (image courtesy US Army)

This is Tareq al-Fadhli, a Yemeni who’s lived a picaresque life, one that included a stint fighting the Soviets beside Usama bin Laden. He’s against the Yemeni government and wants to ingratiate himself to the Americans, but I don’t care about that right now. I care about broadcasting this far and wide.

“When I fought with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, there were no bombings of civilians, and I would never have supported them,” he said.

I have talked to counterterrorism and intelligence professionals, people who spend all their time trying to anticipate al-Qaeda’s next moves — in six months and over 20 years — and their takeaway is clear: what al-Qaeda-the-movement cannot survive is the justified perception among Muslims that they’re murderers. They’re not warriors. They’re criminals. They’re murderers. That’s why in videos like this one, Ayman Zawahiri feels the need to contextualize al-Qaeda seeking civilian targets (and pretend as if the overwhelming majority of al-Qaeda victims aren’t Muslims). If even extremist Muslims consider al-Qaeda to be murderers, the movement dies. Permanently.

There are different conceptions of public diplomacy out there. Many of them concern how the U.S. talks to skeptical publics. I tend to feel that public diplomacy divorced from substantive policy decisions is transparent, condescending, credibility-destroying bullshit. Instead, public diplomacy should be viewed as an offensive capability — to attack an adversary’s credibility, aimed at his weak point, to destroy him, and rapidly. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine praising the man who co-wrote Dow 36,000, but by God, Jim Glassman, Bush’s last undersecretary of State for public diplomacy got that. (I’m sure I’ll go back to my comfortable ideological views about Jim now that he’s in charge of promoting the Bush legacy, but credit where due and all.)

Get al-Fadhli in a video, saying this shit in Arabic, and find a way to get it to al-Jazeera. It goes viral and we watch the cognitive dissonance batter al-Qaeda while they’re weakened.